The Smoking: a myth and a story... By Cyrille Néret-Minet
Legend has it that it was the London tailor Henry Poole of Savile Row who designed the first tuxedo in 1884. According to Sir Angus Cundey of Henry Poole, the prototype even dates from 1865. His client and commendatory was none other than the he arbiter of elegance at the time, the Prince of Wales, son of Queen Victoria and future King Edward VII, who ordered this short “smoking jacket”. The Prince of Wales could wear this jacket to go to the smoking room and thus not smoke his coat. According to the Savile Row Bespoke Association, this jacket was ' midnight blue ' and the first 'dinner jacket' designed.
An American, Mr Grisworld Lorillard (or Mr James Brown Potter depending on the source), having seen this suit on the Prince of Wales when he was invited to Sandringham, imported it to the United States in 1886, having previously made it also directed by Henry Poole. A member of the Tuxedo Park Club, he wore it the first time there. And the name "Tuxedo" became his baptismal name in the United States.
English tradition regards this garment as semi-formal. He was not immediately accepted by society. Remember that scathing line from the dowager, Violet Crawley, in Downton Abbey who said to her son, the Earl of Grantham: “I thought you were a waiter …”. Julian Fellowes relates the following anecdote: when, at the end of the 1920s, the Duke of Rutland was asked by his brother-in-law if he ever wore a tuxedo, the Duke replied: "When I dine alone with the Duchess, in her room”.
The English call the tuxedo, dinner jacket , and never speak of a " dinner suit ". However, the name " tuxedo jacket " refers in England to the indoor jacket, in velvet and frogs, which is a little different from the tuxedo jacket. It would however be the origin of the translation of the dinner jacket, in “ tuxedo ”, among the French and the Germans.
On a French invitation card, the term tuxedo will often be replaced by "black tie" or " black tie ". The guest will understand that it will be necessary to put on a tuxedo. As the prefect Jacques Gandouin, reformer of republican protocol in 1985, reminded us, the term "evening dress" normally refers to the coat (tailcoat) and therefore to the "white tie". But today the message is less clear and few gentlemen still have a suit (white tie, breastplate, false collar, white waistcoat, tailcoat, two-gallon trousers, pumps with a bow tie).
On the other hand, as the late couturier Hardy Amies reminded us, it is true that the tuxedo is an evening garment, resulting from the habit of the aristocracy who wants people to change for dinner: it is therefore impossible in England or in France to see it appear before 7 p.m.
The tuxedo is usually black. However, a midnight blue is allowed provided that it is very close to black. The Duke of Windsor, like his ancestor, wore this " midnight blue " color which gives depth to the fabric and makes it different from other guests. The lapels of the jacket are partly covered with silk, satin or grosgrain, the latter being prized by discerning amateurs because it is less shiny and less conspicuous. The trousers are braided (only one braid unlike the suit), the pockets are straight and without flaps, the buttons are covered with silk, and all this differentiates the tuxedo from a simple black suit.
The white or ivory tuxedo jacket, accompanied by a black cummerbund (silk tuxedo belt inherited from India which, through its folds, can accommodate a theater or cloakroom ticket), a black bow tie and a black braided pants, is worn more during an evening on a cruise or in the tropics. Remember Roger Moore in Octopussy or Sean Connery taking off his diving suit in Goldfinger to reveal himself in an impeccable white tuxedo jacket.
Several materials are possible: wool mixed with mohair, a fabric called grain de poudre or barathea, is the most common. Mohair, wool from an Angora goat also called a Tibetan goat, is renowned for its characteristics of heat control and its ability to breathe: therefore a rather light, breathable fabric that takes light well. We sometimes see, for the most precious dinner jackets, a mixture of alpaca and mohair, perfect for summer evenings because the fabric is very well ventilated.
The tuxedo does not have to look new: the father of the current Duke of Bedford (late Ian) even said that it should look old but be tailor-made and of the best quality. Thus, the height of chic for a young member is to have had his father's or grandfather's tuxedo recut, especially if the latter was made in Savile Row or by a Parisian tailor.
Generally, a young circle member already has a tuxedo because he needed it when he was 20 for his rally evenings.
The tuxedo jacket can be embellished with a white silk or linen pocket square, or even a similar color as Prince Charles is fond of. A red flower can replace the view of the cover. The white flower is traditionally rather reserved for the coat or the jacket. On the question of adding a flower in addition to the cover, it always raises debates among elegant people; Prince Charles does, as does the late Duke of Windsor.
The Grand Chancellery of the Legion of Honor recalls the usual custom, that one does not wear decorations on a tuxedo but only on the coat (or in town dress during the day, during official ceremonies).
Several forms of tuxedo jacket are allowed:
- The double-breasted tuxedo as always loved by Prince Charles and as favored by the guide to the protocol and customs of British ambassadors in the 1960s,
- The straight jacket with a shawl collar often seen in France or the United States,
- The straight jacket with a pointed collar (and never with notched lapels!) which looks great and is favored by the younger generation. Designer Tom Ford has brought this cut up to date in recent years.
The single-breasted jacket has only one button closure and is a little shorter than a suit jacket. It does not have back slits. It can be accompanied by a tuxedo waistcoat, straight or double-breasted, and in this case a cummerbund is not worn.
The trousers remain in the tradition of the habit: they are laced and without cuffs. It is worn with white straps often hidden by the waistcoat.
Varnished or glazed shoes are the essential complement to the tuxedo: they can be oxfords with a smooth vamp or a straight toe, without perforations, or varnished pumps with a bow tie (“ opera pumps ”). Black and fine socks, in silk or Scottish thread accompany them. Prince William has already made the faux pas of wearing flower-tipped oxfords ( brogues in English) with a tuxedo and it has been noticed and commented on.
It is very important to wear a black, self-made bow tie. “Already made” knots are terribly similar to “already made” knots, which means that you don't know how to tie a “pap” knot yourself! Some elegant people go so far as to give their bow tie a “quick-made” look in order to emphasize the fact that it was tied by themselves.
The tuxedo shirt differs from the simple white shirt: in poplin, it has French cuffs completed with cufflinks in gold or onyx or even another black stone; it can have a breastplate or a throat that hides the buttons. The visible buttons, on a shirt without throat, are breastplate buttons, a sort of small black jewellery, in pearl or even smoked mother-of-pearl or gold. The collar is classic, the broken collar should now be reserved for clothing. The chest pocket obviously does not exist.
Apart from James Bond, you don't wear a sports watch with a tuxedo. A flat gold watch with a black leather strap is enough, even for the purists, no watch at all: we are there to have fun and not to monitor the passage of time.
Before going out, put on a black or midnight blue Chesterfield coat accompanied by a black Hombourg hat or a midnight blue Fedora.
There, you are ready. Let the party begin… Don't forget your cigars!